All Strings Attached

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Chapter 2: Dicey Negotication

~Arika’s POV~

Arika woke up before the sun could peek into her window. She stared at the large, wooden shelf filled with things she picked up while on her walks opposite to her bed. A few silhouettes of jars could be made out from the moon’s reflection.

Her mind that usually wandered became fixated on the meeting she would have.

“Prince Sin-Vira… I wonder what he’s decided to do…”

After staring into the darkness for a moment longer, she sat up from her bed and raised her arms to stretch, only to hear a clattering sound.

“Hehe whoops~ Arm came off…” she giggled as she looked at her forearm on the ground. “Strings and hooks; porcelain and wood; a soul and a purpose. That’s what makes the perfect doll…” Arika recited as she picked up her fallen arm and pushed it back into place.

Being a doll meant she wouldn’t have to worry about starvation, hypothermia, and various other things the living worried about. Though what they shared in common was an end. Death was always inevitable.

As the sun began to rise, she went through her daily self-maintenance. Making sure her points worked just fine and weren’t too loose. After that, she went to her dresser and changed into her casual wear. A green dress with ruffles that covered her legs entirely.

“I do hate wearing this, but my secret must be kept…” She muttered as she put on arm-length silk gloves, and flat shoes to match. Once she was fully dressed, she left to start her mundane day.

There were already some commoners preparing to start their days as well. Opening businesses, cleaning, children playing, it felt like every day was becoming a blur in her colorful kingdom.

“Good morning, Princess Sibylla!”

“It’s a pleasure seeing you up, Princess Sibylla.”

“You look more like your mother every time I see you, Princess…”

As greetings that mentioned that name built up, Arika felt a knot in her chest.

They knew nothing about what was happening behind the walls. Which was for the best if the kingdom were to avoid falling into shambles. Arika would continue to smile and wave until she went to the training grounds where the guards were getting their morning routines.

“Good morning! It’s rare seeing everyone up so eartly.” She greeted as she waved two a pair of guards who stopped to greet her. “Is father already awake?” she asked with her hands together. Praying he was asleep.

“Sorry, princess. He’s the one who made us get to training earlier today. He seemed pretty pissed about you coming home late and no one knew where you were,” A guard explained.

Arika bowed slightly. “I’m sorry for causing you boys trouble. I ran into a bit of trouble myself last night. But I’m fine!” she assured them.

“Trouble? Princess Arika, you know you can’t be wandering on your own at night without an escort. If someone were to find out your secret, you could be in danger! Were you attacked?”

She sheepishly looked down. Lying to guards who cared so much about her never felt right. “I wasn’t... I just lost my way for a while.” She looked up at him. “I remember kicking some of your butts anyways! I’m pretty capable of fending for myself.”

Sparing with guards wasn’t a requirement, but it was for her in order to understand her limits. With her movements relying on a mechanism, it was how she learned how to maneuver her body properly.

“I’m looking forward to a rematch sometime. The general has been giving us Hell for what happened!” They both laughed.

Arika shook her head. “Sore loser! I might be a bit busy for a while, so I’ll have to make time for it.” She then bowed. “I should join my father for breakfast. Have fun!” She turned and went on her way to the dining hall.

Knowing that the king would likely scold her, Arika knew that she would have to tread on thin ice. Her steps resumed to a walking pace as she stood upright and continued her act for the public.

By the time she arrived, the king was already seated in the dining hall and had a red that could pierce through stone.

“You should know by now that curfew exists for a reason, Arika,” he snarled, taking a plate from one of the various silver carts of food he would likely waste. “What would the public think about seeing my Sibylla walking around at night?”

Arika bowed before sitting in her chair at the other end of the long table. “I apologize, King Lambert. There were unexpected events that delayed my return after Prince Beka and I parted ways.” Arika stared down at the empty plate sitting before her. Engraved in the plate said the name ‘SIBYLLA PURCELL’ in gold. She scowled at the name she took no ownership of.

The king scoffed at her words as he bit into a piece of steaming food. “Really? My Sibylla would never come home late, even when ‘unexpected events’ happen. What happened?” The king pushed his plate of unfinished food away before taking another meal to eat.

Arika stared at the king with a blank expression. “While walking through the forest, I took an incorrect turn and overheard two men that came from the snapdragon kingdom. They spoke about the treatment they received at the mines and–”

Lambert slammed his fist down and grunted. “So what of it?! Don’t tell me you plan on siding with those bastards!?” He stabbed into the plate harshly, shattering it with his golden knife. “I spared those slimy lizards from destruction with a fair deal! You were not created to defy me, do you understand!?” He shouted.

The princess felt herself shrink in her seat. “I… I am aware, sir. But I did not speak of this to question your noble cause. After overhearing these men I became aware that there is resentment that has become rooted and is growing in that kingdom. This means retaliation from the snapdragons might happen without proper preparation.”

“Retaliation!? Then I need to send more guards over there!” He shouted before stabbing into his meat and biting into it.

Arika took a deep breath. “My duty was to find Sibylla a suitable prince to marry while she recovers. Prince Beka of the Hyacinth kingdom is a weak prince that lacks any real benefits if she were to marry him. Also, I believe his older sister is already preparing to marry a royal in the Lily kingdom. However, the snapdragon’s have a prince and something you want…”

King Lambert’s brows furrowed as his grip on his knife tightened. “Whatever you’re implying, think about your next words very carefully…” he warned.

She laced her fingers together as she straightened her back. “King Lambert, the snapdragon’s are growing restless from the lack of communication between both kingdoms. Sibylla would not approve of the Snapdragon’s hatred towards this kingdom and would make the same decision I wish to make.” Arika stood up from her seat, her hand over her chest. “Allow me to win over the prince’s trust. If we were to wed, my presence in their kingdom would not only diminish suspicion but bring ease to the people. Even if we slightly change the treatment now and then, there would be enough false hope to discourage the idea of retaliation.”

Arika was aware of how much the king loved his idea of power over other kingdoms. Everything he owned and wore was dazzled by the gorgeous gemstones, which must’ve come from the Snapdragon Kingdom. His jewelry, silverware, furniture, even his clothes had minerals embedded into them. He was more than aware of the harm he was causing, he was the one who boasted about it at every gathering. There’s no saving a man drowning in his greed after all.

“My daughter deserves better than to marry a kingdom as worthless as the Snapdragons! Are you certain the Hyacinths lack resources that are of any value?” He questioned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

The question made Arika cover her mouth for a moment to hide the smile creeping on her face. She uncovered it when she had a composed face. “Please believe me when I say the Hyacinth’s waters are home to common fish that lack high quality. Besides that, there are no benefits in that kingdom.”

“The Snapdragons are nothing short of an embarrassment. They’re brutes! What other options are there!?”

Arika shook her head. “If you desire to keep your mines without retaliation, I suggest looking into my idea. They’re restless and might seek blood rather than an olive branch between the kingdoms. Sibylla won’t be in any danger once she’s with him.” She couldn’t confirm that but honestly didn’t care. Her father would discard her the moment Sibylla was on her feet again.

King Lambert abruptly stood up from his seat. His hairy hand gripped onto the cart and flipped it over. Cursing, shouting, and lashing out on now wasted food that slattered the ground.

The princess sat in silence. Waiting for him to wear himself out since this was common for him to do.

Lambert fell back into his seat as he breathed heavily. “Fine! I’ll concede! It’s not worth the risk of them trying to bite back anyways…” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Leave me be so I can prepare!” he shouted.

Arika smiled and left her seat. “I wish you a pleasant morning, King Lambert.” She bowed before hastily exiting while the servants began cleaning the mess. She was unaware that her hands were balled into a fist until she was outside again.

“You’re in a hurry. Was he yelling again?”

A voice from beside Arika caused her to shriek. Looking into the hedges a young woman with springy-burgundy hair and eyes of sapphire. Her olive skin was dusted with flour as usual.

Arika released a sigh before approaching her. “You should get down from there, Suni. One of these days they’ll see you as an intruder.” She took a deep breath before looking at her. “He… was a bit upset about a proposal I made. But we should discuss this over some treats. You brought them, right?”

Suni lifted a basket with a grin. “Mama said I could take a break since the goodies are baking.” She jumped down from the hedge and stumbled. Arika grabbed her wrist and giggled.

“Careful!” She held Suni’s hand and walked with her. “Oh, and when I tell you what I did, please don’t get mad!” Arika pleaded with a grin plastered on her face.

Suni rolled her eyes. “Whenever you say not to get mad, it means you screwed up. But I’ll try.”

Arika opened the gate that led to the garden. Hedges with gardenia flowers of all colors lined the stoned pavement and surrounded the gazebo. She released her hand and sat down. Suni placed the basket on the table between them before sitting down. Both reached into the basket and pulled out small rolls that were freshly baked.

While Arika lacked the sense of taste and smell, eating Suni’s baking always made her feel warm inside. She never knew what happened to the food inside her body, but it at least meant she had nothing to clean.

Suni finished her roll before leaning in. “No more stalling, spill what you did this time to get him that mad.”

The princess fiddled with the half-eaten roll.“Okay so… I convinced King Lambert that I should marry prince Sin-Vira of the Snapdragon kingdom after meeting up with the prince because he attempted kidnapping me but botched it. Are you mad?”

Her friend stared at her with a dumbfounded expression. “Arika. I normally backed up your bad ideas because that’s what friends are for. But you’re aware this is the dumbest thing you’ve done. He tried to kidnap-!” Arika placed a hand over her lips and hushed her. “…He tried to kidnap you. They’re the enemy to our kingdom and he tried to kidnap you. Why is your response marriage? I knew you were strange, but you’re also pretty stupid!” Suni looked amuse as she rested her arms on the table and laid her head on them.

“Hey, he said that too!” Arika finished eating her piece and nodded. “After restraining him, he told me the reason behind his actions. Have you heard of the mines?” Suni adverted her eyes as her amusement ceased. “Helping him would get back at the king. When I’m gone, my sis will hopefully continue it…”

“Have you checked on her recently? You don’t bring her up as much anymore…” Suni ran her index finger long the spiral grooves on the table.

“I never want to, but the head maid told me she’s fine. She’s less feverish and just sleeps a lot now. Though she was nasty about it. Talking like I was the one bothering her!” Arika defensively crossed her arms.

Suni smiled a bit. “Maybe she’s still upset about the time you put a snail on her doorknob. She screamed so loud we could barely hear the morning bell!”

Arika rolled her eyes. “She had it coming! That old bat doubled my studies on my day off. But it was kinda mean… she was stuck in there for a while. Though that was years ago, she should’ve gotten over it…”

“Okay, she’s an old prune, nothing new. Tell me about this prince! Is he at least cute?” Suni sat properly.

The princess sat in silence as she thought about his appearance. “He wasn’t unattractive based on my sister’s standards. But when I made eye contact with him, he looked like he saw a ghost!” She jest.

“Is he wrong?” Suni asked.

“…”

“Sorry. That was a tasteless joke. You okay?” She asked.

Arika reached over and rubbed the flour off Suni’s cheek before placing her hands on her lap. “I wasn’t offended. You never try to hurt my feelings, Suni. I was just thinking how sad it would be if he were in my situation. The plan of marriage might not be private, but our intentions will be. So if anyone asks, it’s to unify our kingdoms to cease tension.” She tilted her head to the side with a smile.

Suni slowly nodded. “The Snapdragons are seen as a threat to us all. I’m worried he has another plan for you. I doubt they’d agree so easily. Be careful, okay?” she asked.

“I promise. There’s no way I would agree without making sure I can defend myself. I even spar with the guards if it helps!” Arika suggested.

“Do whatever. I’m just a commoner, after all, bossing around a royal member of Gardenia isn’t a bright idea,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone before standing up. “Mama’s probably waiting for me. I’ll catch you around, Arika! Keep the rolls!” She gently pats Arika’s head before waving. “See ya!”

Arika waved back before looking at the basket. She ate the rolls mindlessly, letting the day pass by with her as she evaluated her decisions that would impact her sister’s future depending on his answer at night.

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